Living in New Orleans is such a blessing…especially for someone who loves to cook and loves to eat!! We have the most incredible natural resources. Why, we can go into almost any local grocery store and get the freshest seafood, game, poultry, garden vegetables and herbs!!
Over the years I have had so many students come through my classes and perhaps the one most intimidating parts of Louisiana Cooking is the ROUX!! I try to include a roux in at least one of the dishes that I teach in my class and I always encourage a “Hands On” approach. There is something about actually making the recipe yourself….I truly believe that by you making the dish….it registers in your brain and your senses that allows you to truly understand and experience what a dish should smell, feel and taste like. It also helps you to “remember” that experience better for the next time you prepare it. Otherwise we would all just watch television!!
Since the New Orleans or Louisiana style Dark Roux (fat and flour) is so different from the typical French style Blonde Roux (butter and flour) it is so important to learn how to do it correctly. The Louisiana roux is the foundation of hundreds of recipes here.
A Louisiana Roux is a deep toasting of the flour in some type of fat other than butter, which would burn before the flour would brown to the point called for in our recipes. Typically, the roux is equal parts of fat (veg. oil, bacon drippings, lard) to all purpose flour unless otherwise specified in your recipe. My favorite is Bacon Drippings if it is available…..and I have been known to fry bacon in the morning just to have the drippings for my recipe. If the recipe calls for 1/2 cup fat and you have a little less bacon drippings than that, just add enough vegetable oil to equal the amount of fat needed.
The original way to make a roux was to start with a cold pan, room temperature oil, and the flour stirred together. Then turn the heat on low and stir, stir, stir low and slow until the flour turned to the color called for in your recipe. This could take up to one hour or even longer.
Thankfully, when Paul Prudhomme came to New Orleans from Opelousas, Louisiana to work at Commander’s Palace, he introduced this city to authentic Cajun cooking. He also introduced us to the fast roux…..I call it the accelerated roux. What once took an hour or more to accomplish, Chef Paul taught us how to do in 5-7 minutes!!
First things first!! You must have your mis en place ready…..everything chopped and ready to go into the finished roux: celery, onion, green onions and bell pepper. Once you start cooking the roux at high heat, you cannot stop stirring until it is done! No time to stop and chop! Also, I emphatically recommend using a wooden, flat ended spatula to stir the roux because it covers a wider part of the bottom of the pan as you stir. My other preference is to make the roux in an iron skillet…..a heavy bottomed, stainless steel pan or a non-stick pan will work, too, but I love my iron skillet!
Place the fat in the skillet. Turn the heat to high. As soon as the fat of choice starts to smoke, add the flour all at once and stir carefully to blend well. Carefully stir the pan in a kind of pattern so as not to miss even a little spot. This is very important because if you miss a little spot and it burns, it will permeate the entire roux giving it a burned taste. If this should happen….START OVER!! even if you do not have any other bacon drippings…use vegetable oil.
You may want to reduce the heat to medium at this point. There are three stages to a Louisiana roux…first stage is called the peanut butter stage; it is literally the color of peanut butter. The second stage is called the milk chocolate stage; the color of a milk chocolate candy bar. And the third stage is called the dark chocolate or bittersweet chocolate stage; deep, dark brown.
As soon as your roux reaches the color called for in your recipe, stir in the chopped onions……JUST THE ONIONS at first. When you add just the onions they will release their juice that has natural sugar in it, as it cooks those sugars will caramelize and give your roux an even darker color. Once the onions reach that stage, stir in the celery, bell peppers and green onions. Cook another 3-4 minutes until softened and proceed with your recipe! VOILA!! The Louisiana ROUX!!
It might take you a couple of tries to get it just right, but oil and flour are inexpensive….just keep trying until you get the “feel” for it! Remember the Louisiana roux is D A R K ! If you burn it, you will know by the smell!! It will remind you of burned popcorn from the microwave….you don’t have to see it to tell it is burned…your nose will tell you. Now go practice!!!
Oh, one more bit of advice…..use stock that you made for the gumbo whether seafood or chicken, to steam your rice. Adds so much flavor to your dish.
Until next time……Bon Appetit
Seafood Gumbo recipe pg. 126.
Shrimp Stock: Place heads and peels of fresh shrimp in a large stockpot. cover with cold water. No need to season. Bring to a rolling boil; reduce to a simmer and set the timer for 15 minutes ONLY. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use. Freezes beautifully!
Raw Shrimp, Crabs & OkraDark Roux